My Classes BEFORE Gamification

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Before I’d even heard about “gamification”, I enjoyed incorporating technology into my classes.  My school district has subscribed to Gaggle for several years and when it first became available, I jumped on board. I loved how I could create groups, post assignments online, students could collaborate and had access to a version of Microsoft Office software.  Gaggle has a lot of features that were helpful to a teacher, however it was very complicated in the beginning and the district required teachers to go through training before they would be given access.

The district also developed an electronic portfolio (eFolio) initiative that , through training, allowed teachers to use various forms of technology to teach students how to implement the district’s four strategic objectives: Goal Setting, Enthusiasm for Learning, Democratic Process, and Global Outreach. In addition to scanners, digital cameras, iPods, and video cameras, schools with eFolio teachers were also provided with additional MacBooks.  Gaggle became a tool eFolio teachers could also use to support students’ documentation of their self-reflections using technology.  The initiative and resources fit into my teaching philosophy so it didn’t take long for me to take advantage of the eFolio training and resources. After the district’s implementation of a demanding core curriculum (purchased through Kaplan) and frustrating software glitches, many secondary eFolio teachers decided eFolio was too much to maintain and backed out. I found myself in the position of being the only eFolio teacher left at my school. I managed to find a way to continue to work eFolio into the new curriculum  for a few days between units.  In doing so, I gained sole access to an entire cart of 18 MacBooks. The sacrifice was well worth the reward!  Technology was easily infused into my classes from that point on.

My “teacher” website began evolving at about the same time. I discovered the iWeb software application available on my school-issued MacBook. The themes and page formats made it easy to learn and adapt the platform to meet my needs.  The second year into my iWeb, colleagues started coming to me for help setting up their iWeb sites and my administration asked me to facilitate a beginner’s iWeb inservice for the faculty. As in most school districts, parent-teacher communication was gaining more emphasis and I began considering ways to better use my website to support student and parent communication.  iWeb’s platform made it easy for me to upload photos of my whiteboard every day (complete with the weekly assignment calendar and daily lesson notes which students should have recorded in their notebooks).  The idea was that, if students were absent or assignments were missing, parents and students could always find out the details they needed from my website.  This became very helpful during parent conferences or when responding to parent emails – all I had to say was “It’s on my website”. Over time, documents became embedded and links to online resources were linked directly from the daily web pages on my site to further support the details of daily instruction. Before long, parents, colleagues, and my administration began noticing the value the way my website design offered parents and students easy access to course-related information.

I’m very fortunate to teach at a school located in a relatively affluent area of our community. Other than spotty access to internet and cellphone towers in the eastern, rural area of our school’s attendance zone, most students have access to computers and internet at home. Generally speaking, middle school students (on average) also make up a growing group of video-gamers. When I began teaching a course for our gifted student population, it had already been established that Fridays would continue to almost always be spent as an “Exploration Day”, which translates into a form of “Game Day”. It supports a theory that gifted students need the opportunity to have one class period a week where they can do “whatever they need to do for themselves” in order to help manage stress.  It’s also about allowing for individual student choice. They can choose to work on a project or homework for another class, play chess or other board games, socialize, play educational computer games, etc. When I took over this course I brought in my oldest son’s old Nintendo 64 game system as an additional option for “Exploration Day”.  Surprise (?), it became a huge hit in class every Friday! Discussions during free time began to turn toward topics related to which game systems they had at home and their favorite games to play on them.  It reminded me of when I used to play Super Nintendo games with my oldest son when he was young. I guess I filed these experiences away for later reference. I had no idea at the time how these instructional choices would ultimately influence and ease my transition into the world of “education gamification”.

Why blog about this?

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I began transforming my curriculum during the summer of 2012 (well, actually modifying my district’s core curriculum, which was their precursor to the newly mandated national Common Core State Standards). Every summer, in addition to using the time off from teaching to spend more quality time with my family and friends, as always part of “recharging my batteries” also involved reflecting on the past year’s successes and challenges. My first stop in seeking out discussions and resources on new topics in education was my favorite Professional Learning Network – Edmodo.

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I often find myself spending more time perusing the Edmodo publisher communities and professional group wall posts than Facebook. Mainly because the content on Edmodo is much more influential, insightful and thought-provoking than anything posted on other social networking sites. I could go on and on about my love for Edmodo and the amazing professionals I’ve connected with and have learned from all over the world, but instead I’ll suggest you join Edmodo as an educator yourself and discover the amazing platform first hand at http://www.edmodo.com

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